It is quite revealing that President Obama chose the Al Arabiya network for his first international interview. The messages he delivered were in line with his inaugural address of last week: They were measured, deliberative and were aimed at setting a new tone. A few weeks ago I argued for Obama to be more of a peace broker than an advocate of one side in the Middle East. His thoughtful remarks this week were a refreshing contrast to the cowboy diplomacy of George W. Bush. They also revealed a desire to be engaged early, like Jimmy Carter was with the Camp David Accords and Bill Clinton was with a peace process that ended tragically with the murder of Yitzhak Rabin. Early engagement by an American president is far better than intervention in the lame-duck portion of a mandate.
Sending a respected emissary like Senator George Mitchell is also a brilliant move that only reinforces Obama’s resolve. This being said, while there may be a measure of hope, many obstacles remain. The ‘ceasefire’ in Gaza already appears tenuous. In addition, the Administration’s pro-active approach in its early days is susceptible to opening too many fronts at once. The economic crisis is, after all, far from over.
Despite my skepticism about whether Obama can win over the Muslim world, it is important to applaud his effort to change course in order to bring a new dynamic in the region. With Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, James Jones and Robert Gates, Obama has assembled an impressive foreign policy team—the best in decades. What is encouraging is that President Obama appears to see the bigger picture and has concluded that issues across the Muslim world, the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the war on terror, Gitmo, torture, the economy and so on cannot be dealt with on a schedule or in silos. Already, America is slowly but surely recovering some moral high ground under Obama. Ultimately, restoring America’s moral leadership will facilitate the search for solutions and the chances for success.